EDITOR'S NOTE: The following press release was posted without editing.

PARIS — Something has changed in the last four weeks and, if the trend continues, we are at risk of losing all ground we have held against COVID-19. This was the message the County COVID-19 Task Force heard this week regarding the rise in positive cases of COVID-19 in the county. Several local officials from Henry County, City of Paris, Schools, Law Enforcement, Hospital, Public Health, and Emergency Management met by teleconference this week to provide updated information on the state of community. The most alarming was the rise in hospitalizations here locally.

Nearly every region in our state has seen a rise in hospitalizations. Hospitalizations in our community have now risen from last week’s average of 4.6 to this week’s average of 14.4, a 213% percent increase, with Thursday seeing 20 inpatients in our facility. Although Paris and Henry County did not see a large amount of COVID-19 during the initial wave, we are now seeing a spike in cases and people are suffering when they don’t have to. We’re now setting the wrong kind of records.

“As CEO of HCMC and a fellow community member, I know this year has been exhausting,” said Lisa Casteel. “In 2020, we have been confined to our homes, health care workers have been continuously taxed in ways we never expected, employees have been furloughed, school has been challenging, weddings and vacations have been canceled and so much more. But we need your support now more than ever to be vigilant with masking.”

“It’s up to each of us to keep our loved ones and others out of the hospital. It’s up to us to keep our businesses open and our children in school,” said Scott Whitby, MD, Board Chairman of HCMC. “If we would all follow the CDC guidelines of masking, hand washing, and social distancing we could reduce our cases significantly over the next few weeks. We know people want to be together and enjoy the holidays, but if we don’t social distance and avoid group gatherings, we are going to see deaths of family members and care in our community jeopardized”.

At Henry County Medical Center, our goal is to help our community rebound from these stressful times, keep our community healthy and safe and be available when needed. It requires all of us to accomplish any of these goals, and it requires all of us to protect each other.

To continue moving forward and regain a sense of normalcy requires the cooperation of each of us. We all must adhere to the evidence-based guidelines recommended by health care experts from every level. Doing so means we protect the ones we love most, our first responders and our community’s health care workers. We must get back to wearing a mask, avoiding large gatherings and staying six feet apart. We know that masking does make a difference and the data shows that areas that enforce mask wearing have fewer hospitalization rates. We need to pull together as a community now.

COVID-fatigue is real, but so is COVID-19 and its dangerous impact. We need everyone to refocus and recommit to wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings and more. We need people to act now.

You can make a difference and we can all do our part by:

• Wearing a mask or face covering when you leave the house. Be sure to keep one in your car in the event you forget. Encourage your friends and family to do the same.

• Keeping 6 feet of distance in public, while also wearing a mask or face covering.

• Continuing to disinfect high-touch surfaces. Remember to wipe down your cell phone, doorknobs, remote controls and other frequently used objects.

• Washing your hands regularly throughout the day. Wash your hands for 20 seconds and use hand sanitizer if water and soap are unavailable.

“For the love, kindness, and friendship of our fellow neighbors and our healthcare workers, we ask you to please Mask Up Henry County,” said Casteel.

Henry County Mayor Brent Greer continues to try to send a strong message to the county by extending the county masking requirement order another seven days through Saturday night, November 14th. The existing order was set to expire Saturday night at midnight.

Mayor Greer stated, “Here we are again a week later and we are a facing higher COVID-19 spread rate than the last week. We had 36 positive cases reported on Wednesday, which is the new highest number of cases report- ed on one day. We have had 241 positive cases just since November 1st. The county positive case rate averaged 23.29 cases each day for the past seven days up from 15.0 a week ago. Today, the State Dept of Health is reporting the county has 212 active COVID-19 cases, which is flat compared to last week. It is concerning the numbers continue to rise. It is affecting our community, our schools and businesses. We must realize COVID- 19 will not slow down until our community understands that each person has to take responsibility to protect themselves and their family. With the Thanksgiving Holiday upcoming in a couple weeks, it is possible our numbers will continue to increase and this could be dangerous for some. The CDC has released recommendations for upcoming holidays to best protect our families. You may want to limit the size of gathering, open windows to allow for more ventilation indoors, and if possible, gather outside. If you feel sick, stay home.”

Other local officials are reacting to the increase in community Coronavirus spread. Kim Foster, City of Paris, City Manager, states, “The City is closing the A/P Recreation Center and the meeting rooms at the Civic Center and City Hall to parties, gatherings or meetings. We will continue the Silver Sneakers class at the Civic Center but limit it to 10 participants. We are still allowing the Civic Center to be open but with limited access. We are trying to find an acceptable balance between the need for physical activity and the need for distancing.”

Dr. Leah Watkins, Director of Henry County Schools stated in response to the increase of positive COVID-19 cases in the county "Henry County, we need your help. Please do your part to keep our students in school and participating in events they love.”

Dr. Scott Whitby, Chairman of the Henry County Medical Center Board of Trustees and local Physician, is also seeing increased COVID-19 related patients at local medical clinics. He has been a strong advocate for community mitigation precautions to slow the spread. He said, "It is clear what is necessary to stop this epi- demic. Continuing to gather in crowds, failing to social distance and wear masks guarantees we will be doing this for months to come." He adds, “If you are directly exposed to a positive COVID-19 person, going to get a test the next day is not the right action to take. Coronavirus incubation period can be up to 14 days from initial contact with a positive COVID person. Testing within 24-72 hours of a positive exposure could result in a negative test, which would lead someone to think they are virus free. However, you could still come down with COVID-19 because of the time it takes for the virus to grow within ones body. Virus spread will continue if you become infected and do not isolate.”

The Henry County Health Dept continues to provide free COVID testing Monday - Friday from 8:30AM to 10:30 AM by appointment only. Over the past seven days, the health dept averaged 105.7 tests per day with an 18.9% positivity rate.

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